Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Providence Diocese is doing some damage control in a recent interview on the website Crux: Covering all things Catholic.
Tobin has a history of making strong political statements about contentious issues such as abortion, marriage equality and separation of church and state. He is never shy about his opinions of atheism and homosexuality. His political involvement even extends to elections, as when he advised Catholics to vote for Mother Teresa for governor rather than Raimondo or Fung.
This is, of course, his right. And to the extent that Tobin involves himself in the political discourse, he opens himself up to critiques (which I am happy to provide).
When asked by interviewer Michael O’Loughlin about his rhetoric, Tobin explained that his outspoken statements are “an expression of my own style. I don’t use a lot of filters. I just try to speak candidly and openly and personally, but hopefully never in a way that’s offensive.”
Still, the timing of this interview is interesting. The interview seems to have been conducted last Thursday, just days before the high profile and expected demotion of American Cardinal Raymond Burke. Burke famously said that the Catholic Church under Pope Francis “is like a ship without a rudder.”
Tobin’s criticism of the Pope – he once said Francis is fond of “creating a mess” – doesn’t seem much different in substance or style from Cardinal Burke’s statement. Could Tobin’s interview be seen as laying the groundwork for a preemptive defense? Note that the Crux piece never mentions Tobin’s most contentious and direct criticism of Pope Francis.
Tobin claims to be surprised that his words were perceived as critical of Francis, saying, “I guess when I offer these comments, I’m doing what I think the Holy Father himself has encouraged us to do, which is to be open, to be candid, to be transparent, to share our thoughts and our feelings without fear of any retribution or strong reaction.” [emphasis mine] In other words, Tobin really doesn’t want to be demoted like Burke was.
One wonders if Tobin is equally open to the idea of the people he supervises being publicly critical of his leadership.